Havel fulfils lifelong dream of becoming a film director

Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president and former dissident playwright, is to realise his lifelong dream of becoming a film director when he starts shooting in the rambling garden of a turn-of-the-century house in a sleepy European country town.

His 2007 political tragicomedy, Leaving, which has been performed on stage in London and Philadelphia, is being adapted for the screen. Shooting began this week at the property in the Czech town of Ceska Skalice, around 100 miles north-east of Prague.

"Actually I have longed to be a film-maker my whole life," the 73-year-old said in an interview with BUC Films, his Czech production company, going on to explain that his years of imprisonment under Communism had delayed the achievement of a cherished goal.

Outlining his motivation for the new role, he added: "A drama is some kind of half-finished product which the author offers to theatres. I felt the yearning to interpret my work myself at last, moreover in a film which means a kind of internal satisfaction for me."

Leaving draws on Mr Havel's tumultuous life, spent first as a dissident imprisoned and under house arrest in communist Czechoslovakia, and subsequently as the country's first post-communist president following the overthrow of the regime in the bloodless Velvet Revolution of 1989.

The play depicts a womanising former leader who grudgingly confronts a political wilderness. Mr Havel's 53-year-old wife, Dagmar – an actress whom he married in 1997 – will play the leading female role. Under his direction the film is expected to come as close as possible to what Mr Havel intended when he wrote the play, dictating it to his wife.

"We are keeping strictly to the original script and not changing anything ," said Uljana Donatova, the project's spokeswoman. Shooting is expected to continue until the end of August, with the film slated for release next March.

Ms Donatova said that, following Mr Havel's wishes, the exact location of the house was being kept a secret, as were the details of the sets and the costumes,

Last month, the former president won the prestigious Franz Kafka Prize, awarded by the Prague-based society to authors whose works "appeal to readers regardless of their origin, nationality and culture". Since the 1960s, Mr Havel has published dozens of plays, books and political essays to international acclaim.

Leaving, his first play in 20 years, premiered two years ago. Its central character is Vilem Rieger, the chancellor of an unnamed country who is ousted from power and his extravagant government villa by a pompous former deputy.

The usurper goes by the name of Vlastik Klein – who just happens to share the initials of Vaclav Klaus, Havel's arch-conservative rival who succeeded him as Czech president in 2004.

Mr Havel has admitted that his play is a semi-autobiographical work that examines the seductiveness of power. "I might seem like some kind of fairy-tale hero who banged his head against the wall until the wall fell and then reigned," he said in a recent interview.

"It makes me blush slightly because I know my mistakes. On the other hand, I do not ridicule it because people need these kinds of stories," he added.

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